Burn out. It happens, including in higher education, where we’re constantly running from one project or deadline or donor visit to the next—all while trying to keep up with the many changes transforming our industry. Burn out can be incredibly frustrating, robbing us of the creativity, energy and initiative we need to come up with new ideas and solve problems.
Like most advancement professionals, I’ve experienced my fair share of burnout, usually because I’ve pushed myself too hard. Here are five strategies that I use to help me find my way back to my work, inspired and ready to rock it.
- Try cocooning instead of being a social butterfly. Sometimes, I handle stress by making plans with co-workers who are also friends. These gatherings often re-energize me, but other times what I really need is solitude. There’s nothing wrong with curling up with a favorite novel or taking a long walk. Maintaining boundaries between the personal and professional by cutting back on camaraderie with colleagues can be incredibly restorative, especially when it helps to avoid uncomfortably negative venting sessions.
- Unplug. Giving ourselves privacy and distance from work can also apply to all things digital. Do you really care what your co-workers are up to on Facebook? If you don’t tweet something pithy and brilliant over the weekend, will the world end? Why work hard enough to pay for vacations if you’re not really present to enjoy them because you’re checking your email on your smart phone every five minutes? Step away from your devices and social media to recharge—you’ll return refreshed, less anxious and more motivated.
- Get moving. I divide most of my work day between writing and creating content for social media, which means I’m sitting down a lot. When I get stuck on how to articulate an idea or suddenly zone out from too much screen time, there is nothing better than exercise. Going for a long run to good music during your lunch break, taking a class at your gym or simply getting up from your desk to take a quick walk to your favorite coffee shop can suddenly spark a new idea for a project you weren’t able to advance or help you crash triumphantly through writer’s block.
- Learn something new. The idea of mastering a new skill may seem daunting at first, but the truth is, learning new things is one of the best ways to stay fresh and current in our industry. That’s one of the mixed blessings of social media—you constantly learn new things and rarely slow down. Trying to do video used to freak me out until I discovered Vine, a 6-second video app, that’s pretty foolproof for newbies. Now I’m venturing into creating longer video clips, so I can expand the type of creative content I use for Frostburg’s social media accounts. Video keeps me curious and interested in my work, and is helping me think about storytelling in different ways.
- Spend time with students and remember why our work matters. All too often, advancement professionals are so busy doing administrative stuff that they don’t have time to spend with students, to find out what their dreams are and what they’re learning at our institutions. I am always inspired after I’ve guest lectured at a faculty friend’s class and stopped to meet and talk to the students. Mentoring and managing interns and student alumni associations are also great ways to open our eyes and our hearts to how terrific students are, and why they need our help to get an affordable and meaningful educational experience. Students share stories with us that we can use to later motivate our alumni, donors and other supporters. They are bright, full of hope and give us a glimpse into how the future of higher education—and our world—will evolve. What better reminder do we need than that to feel eager and interested in our jobs?
These five things help me get back into the groove. What do you do? Share your thoughts in the comments below.